Longform

The Hunger Artist

Page 6 of 9

"Yes, I agree with what you are now probably thinking -- my parents did not deserve to get stuck with me; I did not deserve to be given such great parents; and yes, I am a pathetic human being," he wrote.

Wiener had relatively little experience in treating patients with eating disorders, and he realized that Krasnow's life might hinge on finding an experienced specialist in eating disorders. He called the best in New England, only to be met with one of the most glaring failures of all, the one that keeps the worst patients safely away from some of the most prominent psychiatrists. The specialists, without exception, refused to see Krasnow because he didn't weigh enough, a paradox that infuriated Wiener. Each specialist insisted Krasnow get up to 100 pounds or more before they'd treat him, "as some rigid orientation of a safety margin for Michael," Wiener wrote in a special addendum to Krasnow's book, adding that it seemed a "self-selection by the experts to treat only those patients who were already willing to accept treatment." They didn't want even the threat of death -- the worst failure a psychiatrist can suffer -- on their hands, Wiener implies.

Krasnow, meanwhile, dropped down to a dangerous 74 pounds and was put in Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, Massachusetts. He continued to refuse to eat after eight days of fasting, prompting doctors to hook him up to an IV, a move that led Krasnow to eat again voluntarily. Within a few days his weight was back up to 80 pounds. He agreed to undergo electroshock therapy, which helped his depression -- for a while. The depression returned as strong as ever, and the net result was his loss of valuable memory of his father's last days. His father died on July 7, 1988.

"I've told you how great my dad was, so I'm going to hate myself for saying this, but I don't miss him. I don't even think about him that much... I just don't care about anyone or anything."

What Krasnow forgot, his mother says, was that minutes after Jerry Krasnow died, Michael asked to be alone with him by his deathbed. "He told him he was going to get better," Gail Krasnow said.

Michael's final hospital story is the most harrowing -- and the most brutal. After returning home, he dropped back down to 74 pounds. On June 20, 1989, after discovering that he'd tied on fifteen pounds of ankle weights to trick her when she weighed him, his mother had him committed to Newton-Wellesley again. By June 28, 1990, he was down to 69 1/4 pounds. This time the gloves were off. On both sides. Krasnow was determined to die. Doctors were determined to see him eat.

The physicians tried to force-feed him by pushing a clear plastic tube up his nose, down through his nasal cavity and throat, and into his stomach. Krasnow ripped the tubes out of his nose, the first skirmish in a weeks-long battle:

June 30: Still resisting doctors' efforts, he weighs 67 3/4 pounds.
July 2: Now at 67 pounds, the situation is critical. With Spielberg on vacation, a substitute doctor orders a forced feeding. The doctor, named only "Dr. V" in Krasnow's book, tried to shove the tubes down Krasnow's throat, but Krasnow refuses to swallow them. "Nine times he pushed them in and yanked them out. I started to cough up blood. Later the nurse would tell me, 'It was so gross that I had to turn away.'" His wrists were tied down and his head was restrained. Krasnow "was still able to shake his head from side to side violently enough to throw the feeding tube back up his throat from his stomach," Wiener later wrote of it.

July 3: Krasnow is winning. His weight: 66 1/4 pounds. He manages to yank the tube out another dozen times.

July 5: Krasnow's blood-sugar level drops so low he has a hypoglycemic attack and goes into respiratory arrest. His mother, sitting in a waiting room, hears the word "code" and runs to her son's room to see doctors trying to revive him. "I remember thinking my head was going to explode," she remembered. "They forced me into my chair. I screamed, 'Let him alone! Let him be at peace!' He'd been through so much already." He was revived and put into the intensive care unit.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman